If it’s Friday, it must be Watford Gap Services. Just up from Norton Junction the canal, railway and motorway run closely side by side again, and the canal forms one boundary of that jewel in the crown of the British transport system, Watford Gap services. Last time we were here, you could moor up easily, hop over the low wooden fence, and avail yourself of the facilities (should you wish to). Nowadays, you still get motorway travellers hopping over the fence (despite forbidding notices to the contrary) to go for a walk along the towpath or fish, but the bank is much more overgrown, and mooring would be decidedly more of a challenge.
Moving swiftly on, we soon arrived at the bottom of the notorious bottleneck of Watford Locks. A four chamber staircase with two extra locks close in at the bottom and one at the top gives the volunteer lockkeepers a major scheduling headache, particularly when busy. And the staircase locks use side pounds, so you have to operate the red and white painted ground paddles in the correct order: “Red before White, you’ll be all right. White before Red: smack around the head.” seems to be the easiest guide.
“Come up the first lock, then wait in the pound above” said the man, so we did, and didn’t end up waiting too long.
The seven Watford locks, and the Foxton Locks (two 5 lock staircases – another bottleneck!) at the other end of the Grand Union Leicester section summit pound are both narrow lock flights. If the builders hadn’t been such penny-pinchers, and built the two flights with wide-beam locks, you could cruise a wide-beam boat from North to South or vice versa. As it is, there are two major wide-beam cruising areas, and ne’er the twain shall meet without a crane and lorry or a significant sea/tidal passage. And if they’d built the Northampton flight down to the River Nene with wide locks you could throw in the Nene, Ouse and Middle Levels too. Ah well. Perhaps today’s transport chiefs will learn from history. Pink Piggy Airlines, anyone?
The locks were pretty busy, but with the volunteers around it didn’t take too long once we’d been given the (second) go-ahead and carry on uphill.
At the top, we took the opportunity to take on second-hand books while Biggles went off to investigate the rubbish and waste disposal departments, and smiling ruefully at the queue to go down.
Battening down the hatches and donning cagoules, we were soon in the drippy and lengthy Crick Tunnel before emerging back into the sunshine and a delightful cruise through lovely countryside, with rolling hills, fields, fox coverts, woods and all the other sort of stuff. Too busy enjoying the scenery to take pictures, we ended up mooring near Yelvertoft.
A late wander into the village for a pre-dinner drink, and we discovered a superb if tiny Butcher / Delicatessen that opened late on Fridays, and indulged: wonderful sausages from Gloucester Old Spot pigs, some Brillat-Savarin cheese that was just perfectly ripe, lovely Soda Bread to accompany, and some beautiful dry-aged steak too. Could get hooked on that place!